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Stopping Conflict-related Sexual Violence Against Women and Children

On Wednesday, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a U.S.-sponsored resolution that takes important steps towards ending sexual violence in conflict-related situations.
President Obama praised the measure and reinforced the importance that the Administration places on issues related to women and girls, stating:
[T]he United States joins with the international community in sending a simple and unequivocal message: violence against women and children will not be tolerated and must be stopped. The United States places a high priority on this issue of fundamental human rights and global security. I am pleased that the Security Council, chaired by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, unanimously approved a US-sponsored resolution that will increase the protection of women and children in conflict. In particular, the resolution focuses on one of the most abhorrent features of modern war: the use of rape as a weapon, and other forms of sexual violence against women and children.

The dignity of all human beings must be respected, and their rights protected. I applaud the United Nations and its member states for standing together to confront these despicable acts. I honor the courage that is shown every single day by women and girls facing hardship around the world, who have such an important role to play in resolving conflicts and advancing peace. And my Administration will continue to support the right of all women and girls to live free from fear, and to realize their full potential.
The measure builds on two previous Security Council resolutions, 1820 and 1325, which were instrumental in placing the issue of sexual violence in conflict-related situations onto the agenda of the Security Council.  Resolution 1325, adopted in 2000, requires parties in conflict to respect women’s rights and support their participation in peace negotiations and post-conflict reconstruction.  Resolution 1820, adopted in 2008, establishes a clear link between maintaining international peace and security and preventing and responding to the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war.  It committed the Security Council to considering appropriate steps to end such atrocities and to punish their perpetrators.
However, despite passage of these two important resolutions, conflict-related sexual violence against women and children continues to plague many areas around the world.  For example, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, approximately 1,100 rapes are being reported each month, with an average of 36 women and girls raped every day.  In addition to these rapes and gang rapes, of which there have been hundreds of thousands over the duration of the conflict, the perpetrators frequently mutilate the women in the course of the attacks.
The measure adopted yesterday, Resolution 1888, identifies specific steps that the United Nations and member-states can and should take to improve the UN response to sexual violence committed during situations of armed conflict.  It calls on the UN Secretary General to appoint a Special Representative to lead, coordinate, and advocate for efforts to end conflict-related sexual violence.  It also requests that the Secretary General deploy a team of experts to work with governments to prevent conflict-related sexual violence and address impunity by strengthening civilian and military justice systems and enhancing national capacity, responsiveness to victims and judicial capacity. 
At the Security Council, Secretary Clinton hailed the passage of Resolution 1888, noting that "the challenge of sexual violence in conflict cannot and should not be separated from the broader security issues confronting this Council.  It is time for all of us to assume our responsibility to go beyond condemning this behavior, to taking concrete steps to end it, to make it socially unacceptable, to recognize it is not cultural; it is criminal.  And the more we say that over and over and over again, the more we will change attitudes, create peer pressure, and the conditions for the elimination of this violation."
Rachel Vogelstein is Senior Policy Advisor at the Office of Global Women's Issues at the State Department (S/GWI)